Compelling, hypnotic simulated incarceration project initiated by Professor Philip Zimbardo in 1971 at Stanford University.
Billy Crudup (mesmerizing as Zimbardo) and the actual Professor were guests on “Charley Rose” recently; the interview piqued my interest, especially the manipulative, addictive powers of role-playing. Zimbardo, a philosophy professor, creates a scenario to test the psychology, mentality of prisoners and guards; after a myriad of smoke- imbued interviews eighteen Stanford students were chosen; they commit to two weeks, fifteen dollars a day; the experiment lasted six days.
Directed by Kyle Patrick Alvaraz, haunting, real performances by hardly recognizable actors; Stanford’s basement is transformed into a prison; both categories are given specific instructions; they are monitored at all times and allowed unlimited license in their interpretations; it was terrifying watching how the “guards” behavior escalated from haughty to maniacal within minutes; Michael Angarano, “John Wayne” is frightening as an amoral, abusive, lubricious guard; prisoners instantly emasculated by wearing “dresses”, forced push-ups, locked in a “hole” for disobedience. Zimbardo allowed the disintegration of the individual to go beyond the limits of experimentation; he did not include an “independent variable” that might have influenced the outcome of the untoward project. Crudup’s depiction is Svengali- like in its march towards moral turpitude.
Exorcised of their individuality, students both “guards”; and “prisoners” lose all concept of time; even worse, the spirits of these brilliant Stanford boys, are sabotaged, mangled and stripped of dignity.
Illusive, the results have kept Zimbardo on the “talk” circuit for years; is evil, brutality, determined by man’s disposition or informed by the institution? “The Stanford Prison Experiment” haunts with an abundance of empirical suppositions, but sparse definitive answers.